Wednesday, December 26, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 17 Predictions

Week 16 Record: 8-8
Season Record: 160-79-1

Buccaneers at Falcons - Bucs win over benched starters.
Jets at Bills - tebow's season mercifully comes to an end.
Ravens at Bengals - Bal gains momentum going into playoffs
Bears at Lions - megatron's record season snuck up on me.  wasn't he injured?
Jaguars at Titans - the who-cares game of the week.
Texans at Colts - Indy has one last surprise this season
Panthers at Saints - Brees celebrates payton's contract with big game.
Eagles at Giants - Vick plays decently in his last philly game.
Browns at Steelers - pitts misses playoffs for 2nd time in 4 seasons
Chiefs at Broncos - Peyton grabs AFC overall #1 seed.
Packers at Vikings - Seattle's W over SF last week secures GB's 1st round bye.
Dolphins at Patriots - NE gets 1st round bye too.  Not happy about that.
Raiders at Chargers - seriously, both coaches should be fired by now.
Cardinals at 49ers - SF's two missed Ws vs Rams cost them bye.  So mad.
Rams at Seahawks - I hope SF gets Seattle in the playoffs for some revenge.
Cowboys at Redskins - RG3 completes an improbable season with gutsy W.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 16 Predictions

Week 15 Record: 12-4
Season Record: 152-71-1

Falcons at Lions - Detroit should be embarrassed about snapping AZ's losing streak.
Saints at Cowboys - Cowboys edge out Saints at home to setup Week 17 playoff.
Titans at Packers - GB's gunning for NFC 2nd seed.  Rodgers' gunning for MVP.
Colts at Chiefs - It is an awesome feat that Luck will have Indy at 10 wins this year.
Bills at Dolphins - Buffalo pulls an upset, and nobody cares.
Chargers at Jets - McElroy is the new starter.  They get a W, but its too late.  Free Tebow.
Redskins at Eagles - 5 straight Ws.  Shanahan gave up too early.  They host Dallas for playoff spot.
Bengals at Steelers - Pittsburgh wins to make things interesting in Wk 17.
Rams at Buccaneers - 4 straight losses and a 41 point beatdown.  Bucs need a W.
Raiders at Panthers - Trojan QBs stink.  Total QBR rankings: Palmer #29, Cassel #33, Sanchez #36.  There's only 32 teams!
Patriots at Jaguars - The 9ers showed that they're the best, when they're at their best.
Vikings at Texans - Peterson deserves MVP if he can break the record.
Browns at Broncos - Otherwise, Peyton deserves it hands down.
Bears at Cardinals - After 7-1 start, Chi is 1-5.  Pretenders.
Giants at Ravens - Both teams should have run away with their divisions.  Who rights the ship?
49ers at Seahawks - 9ers have the ability to cool down teams that think they're hot.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Linsanity wins again in NY

Jeremy Lin returned triumphantly to Madison Square Garden in the Rockets' only visit this season and led his team to a 109-96 win.  He shot a respectable 9-15 on the night for 22 points, and considering that he was only 1-6 from the 3 point line (the lack of a consistent 3 point shot is one of the major areas he must address), he was actually 8-9 from inside the arc.  Jeremy was had a game-high 8 assists to go with his 4 rebounds.  Most impressively, the Rockets were +18 when he as on the floor, by far the biggest ratio on the night.

In comparison, the Knicks' point guards - Kidd and Felton - combined for only 19 points and 7 assists.  The Knicks were actually -20 with Kidd on the floor and -11 with Felton.

We've talked about how poorly the Knicks handled Lin's departure, but Jeremy handled his return with nothing but class.  Knicks fans fittingly applauded him during introductions.

In the Rockets' other game vs the Knicks earlier this year in Houston, Jeremy also directed Houston to a 131-103 win and the Knicks had Carmelo on the court that night.  Surprisingly, NY only has 6 losses overall and yet 2 of those were to Jeremy.  Here's hoping the Knicks miss the playoffs, right alongside Lakers as the year's biggest disappointments.

Ultimately, Jeremy and Harden need to find a good balance between the two for success.  If Harden dominates the ball as Carmelo did, Jeremy will probably not be the best fit for the Rockets.  At the very least, he would have to improve his 3 point shooting to be more effective.  But I don't think that's why Houston signed him.  They wanted him to be the facilitator and to keep the offense from stagnancy.  On this night in NY, he reminded everyone of what Linsanity was all about.

Monday, December 17, 2012

49ers clinch playoff spot with win at Foxborough

The Belicheats haven't lost a home game in December since 2002.  Just last week, they absolutely destroyed the previously 1-loss (likely AFC reg season champs) Texans 42-14 there, pushing their win streak to 7 games.  The 9ers were coming off an unconvincing win over the Dolphins and a loss to the Rams.  Elite veteran, Brady, was going up against Kaepernick, a 2nd year starting just his 5th game.

The SF lead was 17-3 at half.  (It should have been 34-3 but we'll get into that later).  By early 3rd quarter, it swelled to 31-3.  The 49ers had forced 4 turnovers - two interceptions and two fumbles - but actually only capitalized on the last two, both early in the 3rd quarter.

Before the half, the 9ers had squandered 4 different scoring opportunities.  After a Carlos Rogers interception which he returned 53 yards to the NE 5 yard line, Delanie Walker fumbled away a sure 3 points, if not 7.  Next possession, Akers missed a 39 yarder wide left.  I'm not sure if he's been affected by injuries lately, but he already missed game-winners in both games vs the Rams.  This needs to be fixed immediately - otherwise it will haunt us in the playoffs.

Next possession, we force a fumble, move to the NE 25 yard line.  But when Harbaugh decides to go for it on 4th and 1, Kaepernick can't handle the handoff and wastes the easy opportunity at the 1st down.  Our front line had made a great push and the 1st down was a matter of falling forward.  (Collinsworth actually called this fumble right before the snap).  Either way, we should have had at least 3 points.

Next possession, we drive the ball all the way to the NE 4 yard line with a 1st down and goal.  We walk away with only a FG, leaving 4 points on the field.  In total, that's 17 points that we could have had.  I would have been happy with at least 10, giving us a 27-3 lead at half.

I expected the Belicheats to mount some sort of comeback charge.  Their lethal offense can wear down any defense, especially a non-desperate one with a 28 point lead in its pocket.  I was angry but not surprised when Brady led them back with 4 unanswered TDs with still over 6 minutes left.

LaMichael James took the ensuing kickoff and swung the momentum of the game with a great sideline return to the NE 38.  On the next play, the Patriots blitzed everyone and left their corner on an island with no help.  Crabtree caught a short pass, made the corner miss and sprinted to the endzone for the gamewinner.

In the end, this game means something more than just a great 41-34 win over a contender at their house.  It means that even if catastrophe happens and we lose to cheatey petey's Seahawks on Sunday, we still have a home game vs Arizona to clinch the division.  It means that we are still in the lead for the NFC 2nd seed (half game lead on GB) which gets us a 1st round bye.  Lastly, it means that Kaepernick proved Harbaugh right on Sunday.

I know that Kaepernick still needs to go through playoff fire.  Alex's game vs the Saints last January was an all-time great.  But Kaep's big play ability is what allowed the offense to match the defense's contributions.  He had 4 TDs to Brady's 1.  His first touchdown was a 24 yard throw over the top to a streaking Moss.  2nd TD as a 34 yard looping throw to the corner of the endzone to Walker.  The 3rd was perhaps the most impressive - a 27 yard, 64 mph bullet splitting two defenders to Crabtree who landed in for the score.  The most important throw of course was the decisive game-winning strike to Crabtree, which put him in position to take it to the house.

Honestly, I didn't feel great about Harbaugh's decision to start Kaepernick after Smith was recovered from the concussion.  Smith had earned the right to start this year based off his leadership last year, his performance in the Saints playoff match, his willingness to come back after we courted Peyton and his outstanding play this season (4th highest rating of all QBs).  Next season, if Harbaugh wanted to go with Kaepernick, that would have been fine by me.  But this year should have been Smith's to finish.

I thought that we were just one fumble away from the Superbowl.  Sure, we should add quality WRs to stretch our offense, but the focus should have been about tweaking the offense.  Things were working - we were arguably the best team in NFL.  Its hard to be great in the NFL, much less sustaining it year after year.  Who knows how long our window would remain open?  This was not the time for messing with a working formula.  Certainly, not drastic changes, say changing your starting QB from a 7 year pro to a 1st time starter who is just 1 year and half removed from college - especially when the starter wasn't even playing poorly.  We aren't even considering possible lockerroom or long-term implications.  Now, I still don't feel good about making Vernon Davis, our sole deep threat last season and a team leader, merely an afterthought.

But, Harbaugh marches to the beat of his own drummer.  He is solely responsible for resurrecting Alex's career last year and his ways are solely responsible for turning the 49ers around from 6 wins to 13, without an offseason or significant personnel changes.  And Kaepernick has piloted wins over Chicago, New Orleans and New England when they were all at or near their peak.

If he beats Seattle on Sunday night, then there's really no looking back.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 15 Predictions

Week 14 Record: 7-9
Season Record: 140-67-1

Bengals at Eagles - Last AFC spot comes down to Cincy or Pitt.
Giants at Falcons - Tough call.  Giants in Dec or ATL after a surprising loss.  I'll take NY.
Packers at Bears - See, I told you Chi were pretenders.
Redskins at Browns - If RG3 plays, they win.  Otherwise, they lose.
Vikings at Rams - Fisher has the Rams D playing well.  Can they contain AD?
Jaguars at Dolphins - The battle for 2nd best Floridian team goes to MIA.
Buccaneers at Saints - Brees stops 3 game slide with a strong game.
Broncos at Ravens - I would have taken Bal, but they just fired their OC.  Too uncertain.
Colts at Texans - Houston licks its wounds and clinches division.  I'm pulling for Luck though.
Seahawks at Bills - Up 50 points and cheatey petey's still airing it out.  What's your deal?
Lions at Cardinals - amazingly they're both 4-9.  Cardinals are the worst 4 win team ever.
Panthers at Chargers - Can Cam keep up his good play?  I say yes.
Steelers at Cowboys - Pittsburgh needs a big W here to setup defacto playoff vs Cincy.
Chiefs at Raiders - Combined 5-21.  Oaktown hasn't won in a while.  I'll take them.
49ers at Patriots - 9ers are playing poorly.  Belicheats just exposed Houston.  Upset!
Jets at Titans - Tennessee wins on MNF in an ugly offensive game.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 14 Predictions

Week 13 Record: 8-8
Season Record: 133-58-1

Broncos at Raiders - Peyton has led Denver to 30 or more points, 10 times this year.
Rams at Bills - Fitzpatrick finally connects with Stevie Johnson for a big game.
Cowboys at Bengals - Dallas has won 3 of 4, but they were against terrible teams.
Chiefs at Browns - Teams both dealing with horrible suicide at their facilities.  Game is 2ndary.
Titans at Colts - Indy is most impressive team of the year.  5-1 at home.
Bears at Vikings - I'm pretty upset Chi didn't take out cheatey petey.
Chargers at Steelers - If wins over KC don't count, SD has lost 8 in a row.
Eagles at Buccaneers - Tampa gets an easy team after losing to ATL and Den.
Ravens at Redskins - Ravens pull the upset and get a W before a brutal end stretch.
Falcons at Panthers - Atlanta pretty much has the #1 NFC seed in hand after this.
Jets at Jaguars - Go with McElroy.  or Tebow.  No reason to go with Sanchez.
Dolphins at 49ers - SF trend this season: win 2, make a mess, win 2, make a mess.
Saints at Giants - I don't get NY.  They whoop GB by 28, then lose to Wash.
Cardinals at Seahawks - The fact that SF is only 1 win ahead is infuriating.
Lions at Packers - After getting back to .500, Detroit lost 4 in a row.
Texans at Patriots - This will tell us a lot about Houston's championship viability.


I've never heard of Cal State San Marcos.  Chances are you still haven't, even though we beat them easily in the 2nd half to pull away 83-60 last night.  The game wasn't televised, wasn't on the radio and wasn't attended by probably more than 3,000 people.  But I was there.

And I wasn't impressed, unfortunately.  Howland opted to practice man to man defense all night since our zone was devastated by 3 pointers from SDSU the last game.  There were several instances of SM's big men scoring on the Wears when they shouldn't have.  We didn't contain driving perimeter players as we should have.  We turned the ball over 21 times.  Our offense didn't yield as many scoring opportunities as there should have been.

Shabazz scored a team-high 19 and he really had to earn them with an assortment of floaters and other short range but highly contested shots.  His jumper was suspect and he looked terribly out of shape still.  Kyle Anderson finished with a team-high 16 rebounds while neither Wear finished with more than 7 in about the same number of minutes.  Larry Drew played the most minutes of any Bruin and finished with 10 points, 10 assists in 30 minutes.

These two weeks leading up to the nationally televised matchup vs Texas this coming Saturday has been turbulent, to say the least.  No, it hasn't been nearly as bad as the Reeves Nelson nightmare early last season or the propaganda fallout late last season, but it hasn't been good.

It started with the departure of last year's starting shooting guard, Tyler Lamb, probably due to his unwillingness to fight for lost minutes.  Then came the embarrassing loss to Cal Poly SLO, which seemed to confirm the hard truth that we are not true contenders even with the #1 recruiting class.  Then two days later, one of the most talented big man in the country, Josh Smith, left our team for personal reasons.  The sad truth is he had been utterly unable to lose the weight he needed to resurrect his career.  Ideally, a conditioned Smith would make him the most influential player on the court.  This brought our depth chart down to 8 players.

Even the beatdown handed to CSUN was forgotten immediately after the hard-fought loss to SDSU in Anaheim over the weekend.  To make things worse, their fan section vastly outnumbered UCLA supporters, though that really isn't news to those in the know.

Where do we stand?

Howland has had to resort to a 2-3 zone to cover the defensive liabilities of our team.  It is hard to say whether those liabilities are a result of a lack of athleticism or a lack of fundamentals.  Perhaps it is both, but if this were the football team, they would need a good old fashioned Jim Mora style 2-a-day boot camp in the desert to whip them back in shape.  So far, this is not the Howland coached team that we are familiar with.  If we end up playing zone all year, what's the point of keeping Howland?  What is Howland without his signature man to man D?

Our #1 recruiting class has actually been a disappointment.  They were the ones who were supposed to come in and immediately make us relevant again.  UK's success last year certainly raised the bar.  Unfortunately, our two highest ranked freshmen have been relative letdowns.  Without the hype, Shabazz and Kyle on paper have been fabulous freshmen for us.  However, though Shabazz is scoring points, he is not dominating the way a NBA ready HS star should be.  He is working way too hard to score, and again, he looks awfully out of shape.  Kyle is a great rebounder and has great vision, but is much less athletic than we knew.  He has little lift and gets blocked in traffic nearly every time.  His jumper is also prolonged and subpar.

Howland's problem in the last 4 years has been that he hasn't recruited truly great basketball players.  Jrue Holiday was really the last NBA 1st round talent that we've recruited.  Since 2009, nobody has been drafted 1st round, which should be embarrassing for a program as storied as ours.  Josh Smith and Tyler Honeycutt clearly had the basketball talent, but not pro bodies to go along with it.  Say what you want about how Howland has run his program, but the biggest point of failure is the same in every struggling program: the lack of premier talent.  This year, he brought in a Shabazz.

And so he'll have this year to save his job.  He'll have this month to get ready for Pac-12 play.  And he'll have Sat vs Texas to make a new statement about these young Bruins.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 13 Predictions, Playoff Predictions

Week 12 Record: 10-6
Season Record: 125-50-1

Saints at Falcons - I thought ATL was ripe for the upset last week.  They'll be ready for NO.
Jaguars at Bills - No Mojo Drew, no interest from me.
Seahawks at Bears - Seattle's 5-0 (should be 4-1) at home, 1-5 on the road.
Colts at Lions - Det had 4-5 chances to upset Houston and didn't do it.  I'm still mad.
Vikings at Packers - After GB's opening TD drive, they were shockingly shut out of endzone.
Texans at Titans - Houston should have lost last week.  Its not a contest this week.
Panthers at Chiefs - How bad do you have to be to be underdogs at home to Carolina?
49ers at Rams - Kaep is Harbaugh's guy.  Sucks to be Alex, but he should be grateful to Jim.
Patriots at Dolphins - Miami, you did your job vs Seattle.  Might as well take the week off.
Cardinals at Jets - 7 straight losses for AZ.  Sadly, it won't get better in NY.
Buccaneers at Broncos - I killed Peyton for not coming to SF.  Looks like Denver ain't bad.
Browns at Raiders - Palmer got what he deserved for walking out on Cincy.
Bengals at Chargers - SD finally wins one.  Why does Turner still have a job?
Steelers at Ravens - Pitts had 8 turnovers on Sun.  EIGHT turnovers.
Eagles at Cowboys - If Philly isn't careful, it could be 12 straight losses to finish Reid's tenure.
Giants at Redskins - NY busts out of their 2 game slump with 2 strong showings.

3/4 Season Playoff Predictions

NFC West: 49ers
NFC North: Bears
NFC South: Falcons
NFC East: Giants
NFC Wildcards: Packers, Buccaneers

The only division in question is the North.  Can GB catch the Bears?  As for the wildcards, it'll be either the Bucs or Seahawks.  Seattle has the easier schedule left but also has bad karma.

AFC West: Broncos
AFC North: Ravens
AFC South: Texans
AFC East: Patriots
AFC Wildcards: Colts, Steelers

All divisions are sown up.  The only question is whether Big Ben returns or not.  If not, Cincy makes the postseason again.

NFC Championship: 49ers over Falcons
AFC Championship: Texans over Patriots

Superbowl Champions: 49ers

Monday, November 26, 2012

UCLA gets embarrassed by Cal Poly SLO

The only thing memorable about this night was that we finally got to see John Wooden's statue, now that he has been unboxed after sc week.  It is well done.

And also Shabazz in UCLA home whites.  Otherwise, we've now lost twice to unranked teams in our first 6 games.  Howland's team is playing with an alarming lack of intensity.  After having a 51-33 lead with nearly 12 minutes left in the game, UCLA was outscored 37-17 the rest of the way to lose 70-68.  True, Cal Poly made 6 three pointers in that last 12 min stretch (they only made 9 on the night), but our defensive effort was missing.  To make things even more frustrating, Norman Powell still didn't realize the score (even though we had just had a timeout) and fouled them with 12 seconds left WHEN WE WERE TIED.  Their subsequent FTs and a Adams missed 3 finished us off.

Shabazz managed to score 15 points and grabbed 10 big rebounds but looked still out of rhythm to me.  He shot a poor 4-13 on the night.  Even so, in the last 4 minutes, he didn't even attempt a shot.  I would have liked to see us run a play or five for the best prep player in the nation in crunch time.

Kyle Anderson was relegated to the bench as Howland still prefers to start both Wear brothers when he can.  He continued his poor shooting and didn't manage a basket in the game.  As for Travis Wear, I don't understand how he can play 34 minutes, most of which at center, and only have 4 rebounds.

Big picture, our main problem is our defense.  Clearly none of our 4 bigs can defend one-on-one.  Kyle and Jordan Adams are poor perimeter defenders.  Drew and Norman are not exceptional either.  Our most experienced defender was Tyler Lamb, who announced before the game that he intends to transfer.  As I mentioned before, he had likely dropped below Powell, Adams and Shabazz for minutes.  But he and Shabazz were clearly the best options when we need a stop.  It was a bad day all around.

As low as things seem now, it is still extremely early.  If Howland can get this team to gel offensively and play hard defensively, we have the talent to turn things around by the time Pac12 play starts in late December.  After all, of our 9 man rotation, 5 players are new.  I think Howland will.  If not, he won't be around past this season, let alone hope to have his own statue erected one day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 12 Predictions

Week 11 Record: 13-1
Season Record: 115-44-1

Texans at Lions - Houston gets upset again as Stafford-Megatron get back into rhythm.
Redskins at Cowboys - Dallas wins again.  Jerry pronounces them contenders.
Patriots at Jets - This game won't even be close.
Vikings at Bears - Chi was exposed by SF.  Cutler gets them back on track.
Raiders at Bengals - Palmer's return to Cincy does not go well.
Steelers at Browns - Batch can't lead team to W in this important division match.
Bills at Colts - Luck bounces back from bad game.
Broncos at Chiefs - Peyton's won the AFC West.  The other 3 coaches should all get fired.
Seahawks at Dolphins - If MIA doesn't win here, a 3 game slide can turn into 6 games.
Falcons at Buccaneers - Matt Ryan's 5 picks didn't cost them.  TB gets the best of ATL.
Titans at Jaguars - Chad Henne is clearly better than Gabbert.
Ravens at Chargers - SD is 1-5 in last 6 games.  They lose another close one.
49ers at Saints - Not sure why Harbaugh created a QB controversy with big game ahead.
Rams at Cardinals - Its sad that Fitzgerald is wasting his prime years without a QB.
Packers at Giants - Packers pull off the upset even though NY plays better after bye.
Panthers at Eagles - Philly stops its 6 game skid here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Bruins win.

A 2nd signature moment.

Friday, November 16, 2012

UCLA scores 100 in romp over JMU

For the first time since Dec 2009, Howland's squad has scored triple digits.  After's Tuesday's dispiriting OT win over UCI, this was a dominating win that UCLA needed to regain its confidence.  I'm glad I went, since it gave me hope once again that this season may not be as disappointing as the last few years.

Norman Powell rebounded from Tuesday's 0-7 performance and led the team in scoring with a career high 27 points (10-14).  I'm glad the hit to his confidence didn't last past the final buzzer on Tuesday.  He had two breakaway dunks - a 1st half steal resulting in a one-hander, then a resounding alley-oop from Drew in the 2nd half.  He was even 4-5 on 3 pointers.  If Shabazz one day gets to play, I wonder who's minutes will be more severely affected - Powell's or Lamb's.  (Sadly, I guess it'll be Lamb).

Its likely that it won't be Jordan Adams, who became the first freshman at UCLA to score 20 or more points in his first 3 consecutive games.  Granted Alcindor and Walton weren't allowed to play varsity then, but the fact that Jordan is the first to do so since the rule change in 1973 is very impressive.  He was 7-10 from the field including 4-6 on 3s.  He also continued the awesome FT streak with another perfect night: 7-7.  He's at 26 straight.

Josh Smith surprisingly put in a stout 17 minute showing by going 4-4 en route to 11 points while the Wears totaled just 16.  I think we're better off not depending on the Wears every night for the bulk of our scoring.  Tony Parker had a strong night with 12 points as well, but I'd be happy with half that on any given night.

I'd also be happy with Larry Drew finishing with 12 assists a night, playing his role perfectly.  I didn't realize Kyle Anderson was so terrible from the field going 1-10 until I looked at the box score, but I'm sure his wrist injury contributed to that.  Even more surprisingly, he had 12 boards on the night.  Our 4 big men only combined for 17.  But his standout play was the incredible wraparound lead pass to a Wear, resulting in a easy layup.  He's the real deal.

After seeing the Bruins push up court, time and time again and immediately launching a 3 pointer (Adams usually making it) en route to 100 points while consistently leaving open shooters around the perimeter on defense, I realized Howland has perhaps sold his basketball soul to keep his job.  Gone is the tough man to man defense and the grind-it-out offense.  Perhaps he's realized the only way to bring in today's 5 star recruits is to play this style of basketball.  And perhaps he's right.

OR ...maybe its just early and these young guys haven't learned.  Ok, maybe its both.

Anyway, we can't get too high from this win against a miserable James Madison or too low from an extremely impressive UCI squad.  The reality of who we are is somewhere in between.  So if we beat Georgetown on Monday, we get to match up with #1 Indiana.  Hopefully Bazz will be back for that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Buster Posey wins 2012 NL MVP

Just as expected, Buster Posey has won the 2012 NL MVP award.  He also won the 2010 Rookie of the Year.  Interestingly, both years that he earned these prestigious awards, the SF Giants won their only two World Series.

Its the 10th time a SF Giant has won the NL MVP, but only the 6th player to do so, since Barry won 5 of those times.  (Barry won 7 overall, the first 2 were with the Pirates.)  Willie Mays did win 2, but the first time was in NY.

SF Giants MVP Seasons:
Willie Mays 1965
Willie McCovey 1969
Kevin Mitchell 1989
Barry Bonds 1993
Jeff Kent 2000
Barry Bonds 2001
Barry Bonds 2002
Barry Bonds 2003
Barry Bonds 2004
Buster Posey 2012

Of the 32 first place votes in the Baseball Writers of America, 27 voted for Buster.  That means he received 84% of the first place votes, while AL MVP Cabrera won just under 79%.  Also, while both won their league's respective batting titles, Buster actually had the better BA at .336.  (Not to mention that both were involved in the last play of the WS with Cabrera trudging away in defeat while Buster joyously flung his mask in the air.)  In fact, he is just the 2nd SF Giant to ever win the batting title (Barry Bonds).  He is also just the 4th catcher to lead the league in batting since Ernie Lombardi in 1942.

It was just the 9th time a catcher has been awarded the NL MVP and just the 5th catcher in the NL to do so.  There hasn't been a NL MVP catcher stretching back 40 years to when Johnny Bench won his 2nd in 1972.

I will now plagiarize myself in my earlier posted case for Buster's MVP:

- If we go only by batting average, Posey leads not just the NL, but all MLB with .336.  (Triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera won the AL at .330).  More impressively, he hit .385 after the All-Star break!

- In On Base Percentage (OBP), which helps us understand that walks are earned by hitters and not merely mistakes by pitchers, Buster finished 2nd in the NL with .408.  (It bears mentioning that the leader, Votto, had 156 less at bats than Buster).

- For Slugging Percentage (SLG), which weighs extra base hits, Buster finished in 4th with .549.

- But its worth noting that in OPS (OBP + SLG), which is a metric that many experts use to determine a player's actual hitting ability, he finished 2nd in the NL with .957.

- Other traditional stats of Posey this season, many of which are popular but may not be as accurate of a measure of a player's value, include:
     - 103 RBIs - He was 6th in the NL but had 74 less at bats than the RBI leader (115 RBIs).
     - 24 HRs - NL leader was at 41.
     - 178 hits - Finished 8th, but had between 63-116 LESS at bats than everyone above (leader: 194 hits).

- And in perhaps the best metric about one's measurable value to one's team, WAR - wins above replacement, Posey led the NL at 7.2.

- The two other players in the NL who deserved a look were Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, but they both trailed Posey in batting average, on base percentage and most importantly, wins above replacement.  We also can't forget that Braun and McCutchen's teams finished 14 and 18 games, respectively, out of their divisional leader.  Posey led an average group of hitters to 1st, not to mention the WS.  Braun finished 2nd, McCutchen finished 3rd.

- And, in case you've forgotten, HE'S A CATCHER who deals with the wear and tear of a season in a crouch.  It is obviously the most physically demanding position in the sport.  The value he provides as perhaps the game's best hitter is enough to win alone, before you even account for his value as the team's everyday catcher.

- Also, don't forget that this is just his first season back from the devastating leg injury last year.  On May 25th, 2011, he broke his fibula and tore multiple ligaments in his ankle.  For his efforts, he was also awarded the 2012 Comeback Player of the Year a few weeks ago.

- In the playoffs, Buster called nearly flawless games to navigate Giants pitchers through treacherous lineups.  He also hit the game-winning grand slam in Game 5 of the NLDS and a key 2-run HR in Game 7 of the World Series.

Hopefully Buster can join Barry in SF Giants lore as the only two with multiple MVPs on their resume when its all said and done.  And think about this - Buster's only been in the major leagues THREE years.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

UCLA escapes over UC Irvine, Visiting new Pauley

There are 3 things that I will remember this night for:

First, it was our family's first night at new Pauley Pavilion, which has been spruced up all nice.  Sure it inevitably loses its classic Pauley feel (since classic usually simply means old), but it does actually feel like the new type of modern, glitzy and bright arenas you'd expect to see in the NBA.  Think Staples.  New Pauley has CPK, Subway and Jamba Juice alongside the glass case enclosed reminders of Wooden's accomplishments and a UCLA adidas store - all in the new outer lobby.  Inside, the player benches have been moved directly opposite to the IM field side of Pauley along with the Wooden family section still behind the UCLA bench, while the main student section and TV cameras have swapped to the other side.  The new midcourt logo takes some getting used to.  I much prefer the classic UCLA circle.  The championship banners are now hanging centrally instead of around the perimeter and the updated jumbotron was much needed.

Speaking of the jumbotron, the 2nd thing I'll remember most is my boys getting some Dance Cam time, twice.  And thats why they both got jerseys.  Need to have a camera ready next time.

Thirdly, I'll remember how terrible pretty much every Bruin not named Jordan Adams looked.  The Wear brothers were on fire for about the first 10 minutes of the game but were more off than on for the rest of the night.  Norman Powell seemed to lose all the confidence he built up in the first game and shot 0-7 from the floor.  Of all players, I didn't think he needed to be told to attack the hoop when his shot isn't falling.

Kyle Anderson hurt his hand/wrist in the first half and probably wasn't himself the rest of the game.  At least I hope thats what it is, because he was invisible in the biggest moments of the game until his last minute tip-in.  Larry Drew, who played 43 minutes since we do not have a backup point guard, has a terrible looking jump shot.  But, his driving layup was the game-winner in OT so he'll get a pass for now.

The one who does not get a pass is Josh Smith.  He looks bigger than he was last season.  He looks more out of shape as well.  He had one breakaway opportunity and somehow managed to airball a layup from right in front of the rim.  I literally thought he tore his knee on the takeoff - thats how awkward it looked.  Larry Drew should have stolen the ball from Josh to insure the points.  All you need to know about what Howland thinks of Smith (and Parker) is that when Travis Wear fouled out in OT, Howland opted for a hurt and mostly ineffective Anderson at PF.

So how did we manage to beat an Irvine team who had 4 smart seniors including the best shooter on the floor in Michael Wilder (6-9 from 3s)?  Mr. Jordan Adams.  After a 21 point college debut, he followed up with another 20 in regulation and 6 more in OT.  This freshman, the least heralded and the lowest ranked member of the incoming frosh foursome, was a flawless 16-16 from the free throw line.  10 of those FTs were in the last 13 min of regulation and OT.  So, he was clutch.

I knew he could shoot, but we had no idea what kind of offensive instincts he possesses.  In 2 short games, he's shown an innate ability that a hardworking player like Tyler Lamb probably never will.  (Although I will say that Tyler probably would have done the best job sticking to Wilder to prevent some of those dagger 3s.  It was absolutely aggravating to see our defenders drift away from Wilder to provide help somewhere else.  Howland should have had them faceguard him and deny the ball no matter what.)

Adams actually reminds me of a poor man's James Harden.  He can shoot, he can find his way to the rim, but doesn't possess the greatest leaping ability.

So our best lineup currently is: Drew, Adams, Anderson, David and Travis.  Until the return of Shabazz, who was seemingly unfairly ruled ineligible by the NCAA, this is what we've got to work with.  Powell, off the strength of his game 1 performance, also seems to have surpassed Lamb on Howland's depth chart.

Speaking of Howland, it seems that his maniacal devotion to defense may have waned.  The emphasis seems to be on pushing the ball offensively instead of spending the preseason concentrating on tough man to man defense.  Is this because Howland has forced himself to change his ways to bring in recruits and keep his job, thus selling his basketball soul?  Or is it because we're adding 4 new players to our rotation in addition to the already defensively challenged Wear brothers and Smith and we just need time?  We'll find out.

But we know that right now, we are certainly not a top 20 team.

NFL 2012 Week 11 Predictions

Week 10 Record: 10-3-1 (tie)
Season Record: 102-43-1

Dolphins at Bills - A bad week in MIA for dolphin and marlin fans get worse.
Cardinals at Falcons - I called the upset.  But they won't lose to this sorry team.
Browns at Cowboys - You'd think this'll be a blowout.  But you never know with Team Jerry.
Packers at Lions - Detroit needed that game vs Minny.  Playoff hopes die here.
Bengals at Chiefs - Cassel is terrible.  In fact, all trojan QBs play for terrible teams.
Jets at Rams - Rams played the 9ers tough.  They would've lost had Smith stayed in though.
Eagles at Redskins - The only rookie QB I'm picking over RG3 is Luck.
Buccaneers at Panthers - TB offense is as potent as anyone's.
Jaguars at Texans - Jax would lose this game even if they were spotted 2 TDs.
Saints at Raiders - A high-scoring affair to be sure.  NO crawls back to .500.
Chargers at Broncos - I have no confidence that Norv's team can pull off this upset.
Colts at Patriots - I miss the Manning-Brady battles.  Hopefully Luck starts off with a W.
Ravens at Steelers - My 4 year old has a quicker delivery than Leftwich.  No Ben, no win.
Bears at 49ers - SF needs a bounceback win after that disappointing non-W.  But nobody wants to see a Kaepernick-Campbell dual.  Everyone get healthy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

UCLA Basketball 2012-13 Season Preview

Look at what has transpired in the program's recent history.  These are the facts and they are not in dispute.

- UCLA has missed the NCAA tournament twice in the last 3 years.  We have not been past the Round of 32 in last 4 years.

- UCLA has not finished atop the Pac 10 (or 12) since 2007-08 (4 years).  That's an entire graduating class having come and gone, never experiencing even a conference title.

- UCLA was picked to finish 1st in the Pac-12 last year, but finished a miserable 6th.

- Through 9 seasons, Ben Howland's winning percentage at UCLA is 68% (and that's including the three consecutive 30+ win seasons), which is much closer to Steve Lavin's 65% than Jim Harrick's 76%.

Since the departure of the last of our heroes of those glorious Final Four days, particularly Darren Collison, UCLA has experienced an extremely tumultuous road trying to live up to those high standards.  I looked at our history at that time, and I thought that we were at the beginning of another march toward greatness.

Howland's first season in Westwood, '03-'04, was sub .500 (11-17) but the future looked bright with Farmar and Afflalo.  Similarly, it seemed that the '09-'10 season (14-18) was again the new starting point, with new promising recruits.  In '04-'05, we finished a respectable 18-11 and made the NCAA tournament.  Similarly, in '10-'11, we improved to 23-11 and made it into the 2nd round.  This is where the paths diverge.  In '05-'06, we went 32-7 and made the NCAA championship game.  How about '11-'12?  The plan went off the rails.  This was the year where we were supposed to have earned our way back to the contenders picture.  We were supposed to win our own conference and ascend to the national spotlight.

Well, we made the national spotlight alright, but for all the wrong reasons.  First, our two best players, Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt, both declared early and left for the NBA even though neither was a surefire 1st round pick (neither was).  Then Reeves Nelson, the default best player left on the team and the one that SI put on its regional preseason cover, was dismissed early on for discipline problems.  Ironically, he was eventually destroyed by another national SI mag story after his dismissal, which also cast blame at Howland for losing control of his program.  Again, it is clear that this was mostly trojan propaganda written by a UCLA-hater.  However, it is still fact that we were an extreme and inexcusable disappointment last season - the inability to make the tournament was reason enough to have cost Howland his job.

But as I examined at the close of last season, the real reason for UCLA's 3 year funk is simple: the lack of true basketball talent.  Since Jrue Holiday and Collison left in 2009, UCLA has not had any players drafted in the 1st round.  That's 3 years.  Don't be fooled.  More than any other reason which includes Howland's team management, players' bad behavior, not playing at Pauley all last season, etc, we haven't been successful simply because we haven't had talent.

Howland went out this offseason and changed that.  He brought in 2 of the top 5 players in the country - some would argue top 2.  And though Shabazz Muhammad is not yet eligible, for the purposes of this preview, we will assume he is.

With the experienced big men and capable guards already on the roster, the addition of our four talented new freshmen plus a motivated senior PG should enable Bruin fans to expect a Pac-12 title and a deep tournament run.

Because Kentucky had been extremely successful with its one and done freshmen, some UCLA fans think a Final Four championship run is all but done.  In reality, I think a #10-#12 ranking to start off is about right and an Elite Eight showing makes sense.

Point Guard

Larry Drew II, 6-1, RS Senior
Again, Drew disgracefully and abruptly left UNC midseason 2 years ago for unknown reasons.  On the surface, it might have been because he, as a junior, lost his starting job to freshmen Kendall Marshall.  My objections to allowing his transfer must again be noted.  Its not the kind of player I want representing UCLA.  That said, this is his last chance to save his basketball career.  Hopefully he's grown up after what must have been a humbling year off.  On the court, Drew might be one of the fastest players we have.  In his last full year as a starter, he played 29 min a game, averaged 8.5 points on 41% shooting, and had 5.9 assists to 3.2 turnovers a game.  He's had a full season of nothing but practice under Howland's tutelage and we've had a good track record of this with the Wears.  Drew will probably start for us since he's now really the only traditional point guard on the roster (another reason why Howland went and got him 2 years ago).  Kyle Anderson was my original bet to play point, but Howland seems enamored with Drew.

Shooting Guard

Tyler Lamb, 6-4, Junior
Tyler's minutes will be most affected by the additions of Shabazz and Anderson.  He's the only returning perimeter starter but will probably play more SG than SF this season.  Its conceivable that Howland will eventually go with the new trio Drew-Shabazz-Anderson to start, but Tyler would still be a major contributor either way.  Hyped for his defensive skills before last season, I thought Lamb was a disappointment defensively while scoring about 9 points a game.  He did raise his 3 point % from 20% to 36% last season and we'll need his outside shooting to open up our inside game.

Norman Powell, 6-3, Sophomore
Along with Shabazz, Norman probably has the most raw athletic ability on our team.  As a freshmen, he attacked the rim with confidence and didn't shy away from an open 3 pointer.  His percentages and numbers weren't great but fundamentals have never been his strength.  I'm glad Howland played him significant time to prepare him for this year.  He'll come off the bench again and his energy and athleticism should be important for the 2nd team.  With 6 perimeter players now, it will be interesting to see how Howland juggles minutes between Powell and Adams.

Shooting Guard / Small Forward

Shabazz Muhammad, 6-5, Freshman
The best high school player in the country, averaging 25.1 ppg, 7.7 rebounds, is the key to our year.  Our deep tournament hopes lay squarely on his shoulders.  Shabazz surely would have gone straight to the NBA if he could.  Though this lefty doesn't possess the Kobe or Lebron level of athleticism, he has the perimeter scoring instincts, the basketball IQ, the fundamental skills and the work ethic to lift a team in the college ranks.  There's zero chance he stays at UCLA past this season.  Here's hoping the NCAA clears him soon.

Jordan Adams, 6-5, Freshman
This newcomer's greatest skill is his shooting ability from range.  Jordan's probably our best pure shooter right now.  Even though his physical athleticism is not outstanding, it is likely not particularly lacking either - certainly much better than Michael Roll's anyway.  And in college, all you need is that one exceptional skill.  Fortunately for us, it is also the most needed skill.

Point Forward

Kyle Anderson, 6-8, Freshman
Kyle is massively important to the next few years of our program.  Though 6-8, Kyle is a great ball-handler and distributor.  I had wanted to see him run our team from the point immediately, but it is yet to be seen  how he can guard the little quick pgs at the college level.  However, this is the kind of premier talent that we have been lacking for years now.  If Howland doesn't start him at PG, he needs to start at SF.

Power Forward

David Wear, 6-10, RS Junior
Well, at least he knows nobody is planning to use him at SF.  David averaged 10.2 points on 49% shooting and 6.8 rebounds in 28.4 minutes last season.  Though both brothers are extremely versatile and well-rounded, David is the better jump shooter.  Strangely, he also has slightly more rebounds.  He will start at PF for us. Neither Wear looks to be an impact player at the NBA level, but for us they will be the solid, reliable and sizable inside presence that every college program covets.

Power Forward / Center

Travis Wear, 6-10, RS Junior
Travis averaged 12.5 points, but just 5.9 boards in 26.2 minutes of play.  He does seem to be the more reliable inside scorer of the Wears, 53% shooting.  With Stover dismissed, he is also our best shot-blocker, which isn't saying much.  Unless Josh Smith surprises everyone and seriously reasserts himself, Travis will be our starting center and receive most of the minutes.  I love that we will have the Wears for another year after this.

Tony Parker, 6-9, Freshman
Tony averaged 16.6 points, 11 rebounds last year as a HS senior.  However, anyone expecting Tony to be a dominant force right away in college is misinformed.  He definitely has the physical body and strength to be useful inside.  However, his footwork needs work, his post skills seem raw, and his conditioning, though not on the Josh Smith level, seems to need improvement.  Hopefully he doesn't sulk with getting limited minutes this season.


Josh Smith, 6-9, Junior
After a promising freshmen year, Josh was supposed to take the leap to being one of the dominant big men in the country.  I was readying myself for his departure to the NBA.  Instead, Josh gained weight after a summer of home cooking in Wash and was never in good enough shape to contribute consistently.  His minutes, points and rebounds all decreased.  In short, it was a horrible sophomore year.  This past summer, he opted to stay in Westwood and recommit himself to conditioning.  Disappointingly, late in the summer, Howland indicated that he had improved, but still had a way to go.  If Josh doesn't show this season that he's realized that he has an enormous opportunity at a NBA career in front of him, then he never will.  There has never been any doubt about his physical basketball gifts.  But he needs to learn mental and physical discipline to be effective for us.

Probable Starters:
Larry Drew, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, David Wear, Travis Wear

Tyler Lamb, Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Joshua Smith, Tony Parker

While Shabazz is still out, Lamb will start at SG.  It's possible that Lamb could move over to SF and Kyle comes off the bench if and when Shabazz returns.

Ideally, I'd want Anderson at the PG, Tyler at the 2, Shabazz at the 3.

Arizona was picked to be the conference favorite, mostly because Shabazz still hasn't been cleared yet.  But forget that, we need to use pre-conference games to gel (and rack up easy wins) so that we can dominate the Pac.  Given the excitement of a new Pauley and our new recruits, I think a 25-7 kind of season is reasonable to expect.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 10 Predictions

Week 9 Record: 13-1
Season Record: 92-40

Colts at Jaguars - Does anybody really think RG3 should have gone after Luck?
Giants at Bengals - I figured the Steelers would pull it off.  Cincy?  Not so much.
Titans at Dolphins - MIA coaching staff deserves some recognition for the turnaround.
Lions at Vikings - I 'm not convinced either way.  I'll go with the hot team and the better QB.
Bills at Patriots - I'll be surprised if this isn't at least a 2 touchdown blowout.
Falcons at Saints - Yep, I'm calling it.  ATL gets its first loss at Drew's house.
Chargers at Buccaneers - TB's offense is rolling, but SD actually keeps it close.
Broncos at Panthers - Denver gets a 2 game lead in division - its already over.
Raiders at Baltimore - Has there ever been a more beleaguered 6-2 in history?
Jets at Seahawks - Sanchez gets revenge on petey for embarrassing him at sc presser?  No.
Cowboys at Eagles - Both in disarray, both coaches on hot seat.  Philly can't protect Vick.
Rams at 49ers - Has the bye week cooled Alex off?  9ers under the radar now.
Texans at Bears - This will fill in the blanks about Chicago's chances this year.
Chiefs at Steelers - 4th straight win sets up huge matchup with Ravens next week.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

UCLA demolishes UofA 66-10

Just about the only thing I didn't like on the day was the dark uniforms and the dark helmet.  Was this the punishment for losing to Cal?  If Adidas wants to try out the new alternate unis for a game, at the very least let us keep our traditional gold helmets.  The dark blue ones were underwhelming.  Even my toddler boys, decked out in their own true blue jerseys, were wondering why we weren't wearing the right unis.

With my lone complaint out of the way, it was the perfect game to be at in just about every way.  Uncharacteristic of recent UCLA football teams, we devastated a #22 Arizona team who was coming off an upset of Southern Cal last week.  And it seemed that nothing could go wrong for us.

- 9 touchdowns.  WE SCORED NINE TOUCHDOWNS.  We were up 14-0 just 3 1/2 minutes into the game.  We had a 28-0 lead by early 2nd quarter before they finally managed a field goal.  By half, it was 42-3 and the game was long over.

- Johnathan Franklin set the record for most rushing yards in UCLA history, now at 3,873 career yards.  He broke Gaston Green's record of 3,731 set back in '84-'87.  The best part was that he set the record on the best run of the day - a 37 yard TD juking scamper on our first drive.  Mora took a timeout for the ensuing celebration.  Franklin finished with 162 yards on 24 carries (6.8 yard average).

- Up 14-0, we drove for a 1st down at their 5 yard line, but nearly wasted it by retreating to the 17 yard line after a negative rushing play and two false starts.  Next play, Hundley drops a perfect pass over a streaking Payton's shoulder for a TD.

- Even when we had to finally punt on the next drive (up 21-0), they immediately fumbled the punt return.  Though we ended up 2nd and 18 at nearly midfield, Hundley found Jerry Johnson for 47 yards to setup a 1 yd TD rush.

- 2 min left in 1st half, the aptly named Goforth returned a punt for 36 yards to get us a short field.  Then on 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line, we opt to throw a fade(!) for some strange reason .... but convert anyway.  42-3.

- Hundley completed 82% of his passes, going 23-28, 288 yards and 3 TDs.  He threw to 11 different receivers, the leader being Fauria who had 5 catches for 81 yards and 2 TDs.

- We finished with 308 yards rushing - 5 RBs and Hundley contributing to the ground effort - to add to the 303 total passing yards.  611 offensive yards on the day.

- Arizona threw for 369 yards against Southern Cal last week but only 136 vs our defense.

The weather was absolutely perfect for a night game (a concern when you've got toddlers) - sweatshirt necessary, but not heavy jacket-gloves weather like last year's ASU freeze-fest.  And the halftime show was perfect for its Veteran's Day military branches tribute - the boys could make out the jet, the boat and the tank - not to mention the enormous US flag that is commonplace in every NFL game, but rarely seen in college.  A good time was had by all, except the 'Cats.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 9 Predictions, Midseason Predictions

Week 8 Record: 8-6
Overall Record: 79-39

Chiefs at Chargers - Embarrassing loss to Browns.  If they're down at half, Norv should be out.
Broncos at Bengals - The defense is coming around.  Shutting down NO is no easy task.
Ravens at Browns - Bal isn't who we thought they were.
Cardinals at Packers - With GB and ATL next, Cards will have lost 6 straight.
Bears at Titans - Narrow win at Carolina doesn't shake the pretender feel around Chi.
Dolphins at Colts - Both are surprise teams with winning records.  Love me some Luck.
Panthers at Redskins - RG3 wins battle of struggling teams led by exciting, athletic QBs.
Lions at Jaguars - Stafford finally put up expected big numbers.  Should continue here.
Bills at Texans - I'm done predicting upsets by the Bills.  They're just not good.
Buccaneers at Raiders - I was shocked by TB's big win at Minny.  Can they keep it up?
Vikings at Seahawks - Unfortunately, I think Sea stops its 2 game skid.  Go Vikes!
Steelers at Giants - My upset pick of the week.  Big Ben will air it out again.
Cowboys at Falcons - Garrett's decision to throw with 3rd and 1 is absolutely brain-dead.
Eagles at Saints - At least NO knows who they are.  Philly might need a change at QB and HC.

Midseason Postseason Predictions

NFC West: San Francisco - Finally, a 2 game lead over pretenders.
NFC North: Green Bay - Risky pick here since Bears have better defense.
NFC South: Atlanta - Only undefeated team left.
NFC East: New York - 3 win lead.  I didn't think the East would be this easy.

NFC Wildcards:
Chicago - 1 loss so far, but will there be regression to mean?
Minnesota - Last wildcard spot is up for grabs.  They've got 5 wins, but who knows?

AFC West: Denver - All other 3 teams are a joke.
AFC North: Baltimore - 2 games vs Pitt will be the difference.
AFC South: Houston - Clearly the class of the conference.
AFC East: New England -  Unfortunately, there's no way Mia hangs around with the Pats.

AFC Wildcards:
Pittsburgh - They very well could win division in the end.
Indianapolis - They and Mia are the only two other teams left to have 4 wins.

NFC Championship Game: 49ers over Falcons
AFC Championship Game: Texans over Patriots

Superbowl: 49ers over Texans

Monday, October 29, 2012

World Series Game 4: Giants win in 10th

The San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series for their 2nd championship since moving to SF in 1958.  They have been the most dominant team of the last 3 years, but they're still 2 for 5 all time in World Series appearances, having lost in '62, '89 and '02.  Apparently they did win another 5 as the NY Giants previously, but those don't count for SF fans.  For us, these two championships were our first.  Hopefully not our last.  But they're our everything.

Starting this 4th game, it looked as if Detroit wasn't even going to put up a real fight.  Since 20-23 teams to be in a 0-3 World Series hole didn't even make it to a Game 5, history was on our side as well.  The game seemed to start just as the others did.  Cain capably handled Tiger hitters in the 1st two innings.  Meanwhile, Pence was involved in starting the Giants' scoring for the 3rd straight game, this time with a ground rule double.  Belt tripled to bring him home for an early 1-0 lead.

Then the horrific happened.  Detroit's triple crown winner woke from his slumber and pounded Cain's 1-1 pitch to right for a 2 run HR.  This was the worst case scenario.  We did not want Tigers' bats to find any life, especially with Verlander set to pitch in Game 5.  Detroit had the lead for the first time all series.  How would we respond?

Buster Posey did, finally making his mark offensively in the 6th inning with a 2 run HR of his own.  He had been struggling this series, but we will remember this as his 2nd homer in a series clincher this postseason.  (His grandslam in Game 5 vs the Reds will never be forgotten).

If SF didn't know it before, when Delmon Young hit the Tigers' 2nd HR off Cain to tie the game, it was clear Detroit wasn't going away easily.  Cain recovered to retire the side in a solid 7th, then gave way to Jeremy Affeldt.

Affleldt was the dominant pitcher on the night, halting all Tigers' momentum by striking out the heart of their order in a row - Cabrera, Fielder, Young, Dirks - getting the Giants through the 8th and 9th innings.

It was top of the 10th, when Bochy's choice for DH, Ryan Theriot singled to center.  UCLA alum and standout SS, Crawford, sacrificed him over to 2nd.  After Pagan's strikeout, here came NLCS hero, Scutaro.  Marco looked as calm as could be, patiently worked a 0-1 count to a 3-1, then ripped a fastball to center.  Theriot flew home for the most awkward, unnecessary, yet beautiful slide one could ever see.

Sergio Romo struck out all 3 Tiger hitters to finish it off.  Cabrera, who might be the best hitter in baseball, left the bat on his shoulder looking for Romo's signature slider, while a 89mph fastball drifted across the center of the plate.  And it was over.

Matt Cain didn't get the official W, but he started all 3 of SF's postseason series clinchers - Game 5 vs Reds, Game 7 vs Cardinals and now Game 4 vs Tigers.  Add to the fact that he threw a perfect game this year, then started and won the All-Star game which gave SF the homefield advantage in the World Series, you could say that this is the best season of his career.

Buster Posey's ability to call great games, in tune with his pitching aces was as big as factor to the Giants' championship as anything.  But I'm glad the eventual NL MVP contributed with a critical HR in the clincher, just when we needed it most.

Lastly, Scutaro wasn't as hot as he was in the NLCS, but we all expected him to come through with Theriot there at 2nd.

And then for the 2nd time in 3 years (and the 2nd time in the 54 year history of baseball in SF), the Giants are champions of the world.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

World Series Game 3 - Vogelsong's Moment

This time, the Giants scored its 2 runs early on and depended on Vogelsong and Lincecum to hold off the Tigers for a 2nd shocking shutout.  Again, Detroit had been shut-out only twice in 162 games and now the Giants had done it back to back..... in the World Series.  Unbelievable.

Ryan Vogelsong gave up no extra-base hits and obviously no runs in a strong 5.2 inning performance.  2 years ago, he could not have imagined getting a win in the World Series.  After being drafted by the Giants in '98, he was traded for Jason Schmidt in '01.  He had Tommy John surgery before 3 mediocre season with the Pirates.  He then played 3 humbling years in Japan for 2 teams before coming back to MLB and getting cut twice by another two teams.  He then played winter ball in Venezuela at the end of 2010 and had some sort of epiphany.  He signed on with the Giants before 2011 and it was an immediate turnaround.  He was named to the 2011 Allstar game and finished the season with the lowest ERA of any Giants starter at 2.71.  He was unfairly overlooked for the Allstar game this year, but no doubt he'll take this World Series W over that anyday.  Great story.

Lincecum and Romo finished things up with 3 more shutdown innings.  They had the luxury of doing so because the Giants earned a 2-0 lead by scrapping together a couple runs.  Pence walked to start the 2nd inning, stole 2nd then advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch.  Blanco then hit a RBI triple.  UCLA alum Crawford then hit a RBI single.  That's 1 more than Vogelsong & Co needed, but they also had the defense to thank.

Three times the Tigers had runners in scoring position.  In the 1st and 3rd innings, Detroit had runners at 1st and 2nd with just 1 out.  Both times they grounded into double plays.  In the 5th, they had bases loaded with 1 out, and Vogelson struck out Berry and got Cabrera to pop out.  A grandslam there might have been the momentum shift they needed.

Perhaps the most memorable play from this game was Buster Posey's 8th inning play - in which he somehow caught a stray Lincecum pitch headed toward his low left to prevent the runner from advancing to 2nd.  Instead of turning his glove over (so his thumb was up), he just kept twisting his glove (with his thumb facing down) while reaching far left to literally snag the ball.  Its hard to describe, but from the camera view behind, he looked like he caught the back of the ball.

Now, think about these facts.

- The Giants have allowed only 4 runs in the last 6 games.  Its a franchise record 6 straight postseason wins.

- This is the first back-to-back shutout since 1966 WS (Orioles over Dodgers) and its only the 2nd time in 90 years that this has happened in the World Series.

- Only 1 team out of 32 total who have been in a 0-3 hole in any 7 game series has come back to win ('04 Red Sox's legendary comeback over the Yankees, of course).

- No team in a 0-3 hole in the World Series has even pushed the series to Game 6.  20 of the 23 teams to fall behind 0-3 were swept and the other 3 teams fell in Game 5.  These are amazing stats.

That means that according to history, there's an 87% chance that we win Game 4.  That is truly crazy.  If we go by the 1-32 stat, that means there's just a 3% chance that the Tigers win the series.

However, we have Cain going tomorrow against their 4th starter.  If we don't win, they've got Verlander in Game 5 against Zito, whom we cannot possibly expect to dominate again, can we?  After that, Bumgarner gets the 6-8 giant, Fister.  Then its a Game 7.  Shudder.

I'm not greedy.  I'm not looking for a perfect game from Cain.  Just one more W.  One.

Friday, October 26, 2012

World Series Game 2 - Bumgarner's Redemption

Even after a shocking Game 1 victory, I thought we needed a 2-0 series lead before heading for 3 straight games in Detroit in order to win it.  Chances were, the Tigers would win at least 2 of those 3 games at home, and we definitely didn't want to play 2 elimination games again, even if they were at home.  (What are the odds of winning 8 straight elimination games in a single postseason?)  For that reason, I was hoping that Bochy would send Lincecum and not Bumgarner out to the mound for Game 2 instead of using Timmy as Game 1 relief.

Yes, I know that Bumgarner threw 8 shutout innings in Game 4 of the 2010 WS, becoming the youngest starter to ever win a WS game.  But in Bumgarner's last 9 starts before Game 2, he had lost 6 times and given up 34 combined runs.  September was his worst month of the season as he finished with his highest ERA, 5.47.  In the 2 playoff games coming in, he had pitched a combined 8 innings and given up 10 runs, both in losses.  So, he's not exactly the hot pitcher you want in such a pivotal game against a Tigers team just itching to get back to their smashmouth ways.

In 162 regular season games, Detroit had only been shut-out 2 times.  TWICE.  So there's a 1.2% chance that they will be shut-out any given game.  Even less with Bumgarner in his current form.

There was a scare in the 2nd inning when Fielder strangely tried to score from 1st on a Young double.  He was thrown out at the plate as TV replays conclusively confirmed Buster's timely tag.  It was just the 1st out.  It was the kind of mistake that the Giants' haven't been making.

After that hiccup, Madison proceeds to finish 7 shut-out innings.  Only 2 hits and 2 walks.  No extra-base hits.  8 strike-outs.  With Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo shutting down the 8th and 9th innings, the Giants took a commanding 2-0 lead.

Though the Giants went toe to toe in Game 1 with Panda's historic long-ball performance, they managed to score just two runs in Game 2 with the typical grind-it-out small-ball that they have become so good at.  Scoreless until bottom 7th, Pence led off with an unlikely single.  Belt walked.  Then came a SF signature moment of the game.

Blanco's sacrifice bunt bumbled 40 feet just inside the 3rd baseline while three Tigers huddled around it, waiting for it to roll foul.  It never did.  In fact, to Detroit's horror, it came to a dead stop on the dirt inside the chalk line.  I'm not sure I can remember the last time I saw a bunt do that.  Bases loaded.  No outs.  UCLA alum and lifelong Giants fan Brandon Crawford had the game-winning RBI, even though he hit into a double play.  It was the best double play hit I've ever seen.

In the Giants' 8th, Detroit walked the bases full and Pence hit a RBI sac fly to seal it.

Of the 52 teams previously to take a 2-0 lead in the World Series, 41 have gone on to win it all.  That's 79%.  Thanks to Bumgarner, for the first time in the Giants' 2012 postseason, I like our chances.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

World Series Game 1 - Sandoval's 3 HRs beats Verlander & Tigers

When the majority of experts predicted a Detroit series win on the strength of Verlander's dominance and the Tigers' arsenal of sluggers, they could not have foreseen nor would they have believed what played out in Game 1.  Instead of Detroit's triple crown winner (an antiquated honor), Miguel Cabrera, or even highly sought after free agent bat, Prince Fielder, doing the damage, it was Giants' Pablo Sandoval, who had been practically disregarded and unused in the Giants' 2010 postseason title run.  Instead of the Tigers' reigning AL Cy Young winner and the one who's widely regarded as best and hottest pitcher in the world, Justin Verlander mowing down hitters, it was the Giants' Barry Zito who allowed just 1 run.  This is the same Zito who seemed to be 10 years past his prime (2002 AL Cy Young winner) and whose performances had so declined that he was left off the 2010 postseason roster entirely.  But, Verlander gave up 5 runs in 4 innings before being removed.

Zito even pitched in with a RBI single.  Amazingly, this is the 13th consecutive game that SF has won when Zito started, stretching all the way back to early August.  For the highest paid and most criticized player on the roster, this postseason is feeling like a storybook redemption for him.

Another previous Cy Young winner ('08, '09), Tim Lincecum, also made an appearance in this game and probably pitched the best he's had all year with 5 strikeouts in just 2.1 innings of work, retiring 7 straight.  Pagan, Scutaro and Posey also contributed with 2 hits each.

But the biggest story on the night was Pablo Sandoval's record-tying 3 HRs.  Nobody has hit more HRs in a postseason game.  And only 3 others have done it in a World Series - legends Babe Ruth (twice), Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols.  Incredibly, he only had 12 HRs in the regular season but 6 in this postseason.

The first was a 0-2 fastball off Verlander which he deposited center field in the 1st inning.

The second was a 2-0 fastball off Verlander, sent opposite way to left field in the 3rd to extend the lead to 4-0.

The last was a 1-1 slider? off Alburquerque hammered to center to make it 6-0 in the 5th.

So Game 1 defied the odds.  Getting to Verlander defied the odds.  Zito's performance defied the odds.  A 3 HR game from a 12 HR regular season hitter on the league's worst HR hitting team in the league's most difficult park to homer in, defied the odds.

And now, the Giants have a chance.  By my estimation, they had to beat Verlander once out of his minimal 2 starts to even earn that chance.   Now it would be nicer for Bumgarner to get back on track and put us up 2-0 before the 3 game set in Detroit.

They say that winners of Game 1 in the WS have gone on to win it all just 62% of the time.  That's worse than I expected - still practically a coin flip.  But hey, its the first time this postseason we didn't start with a loss.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NFL 2012 Week 8 Predictions

Week 7 Record: 12-1
Overall Record: 71-33

Buccaneers at Vikings - Better D, all-pro RB.  I'll take the Vikes at home.
Panthers at Bears - I can't believe Cutler will be leading a 6-1 team.  Not sure they're for real.
Chargers at Browns - Especially if Richardson doesn't play, Browns lose again.
Seahawks at Lions - Stafford and Megatron find a way to get back on track against tough D.
Jaguars at Packers - No Mojo, no chance.  Easiest pick of the week.
Colts at Titans - Hasselbeck's experience give them another edge as they host Indy.
Patriots at Rams - Should have lost last week at home, should win this week on road.
Dolphins at Jets - Jets upset about giving game away last week, win this one.
Falcons at Eagles - NFL's last remaining unbeaten goes down in Philly.
Redskins at Steelers - Big Ben needs to start airing this thing out, and he will.
Raiders at Chiefs - If nobody cares and nobody watches, are they really playing?
Giants at Cowboys - Dallas has only played 2 home games.  Dare I pick an upset?  yes.
Saints at Broncos - Brees airs it out, but NO defense lets them down in close game.
49ers at Cardinals - After a 4-0 start, these AZ pretenders will be at .500.  Hopefully SF sticks with the run game while getting Vernon Davis back into the gameplan.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Giants comeback to take NL Pennant, World Series History

After going down 3 games to 1 in the NLCS, the Giants again were faced with the prospect of 3 elimination games in order to advance.  They then proceeded to outscore the Cardinals 20-1 (5-0, 6-1, 9-0) in those 3 games to reach their 2nd World Series in 3 years, and their 5th overall since moving to SF.  Zito, Vogelsong and Cain all gave outstanding performances to hold St. Louis to just 1 run in 3 starts.  Midseason roster add, Marco Scutaro was the NLCS MVP, finishing with 14 hits, 3 of which came in Game 7 (along with a walk).

Historically, the Giants are just the 12th team in postseason history to come back from 3-1 deficit out of the 77 total teams who were in a 3-1 hole.  (They're the 7th team to do so in a LCS).  Incredibly, they had already come back in the NLDS (starting 0-2) with 3 straight wins, which means that before even reaching the World Series, the Giants have won a record-tying 6 straight elimination games in a single postseason.  (Hopefully they don't break that record in the WS).  Incredibly, they are the first team to ever win 4 eliminations on the road in the same postseason.

The 9-0 win was amazingly also the Giants' first Game 7 win in their history, ending an abysmal 0-5 streak.  It was also the first Game 7 of any kind hosted in San Francisco since the 1962 World Series, when they lost 1-0 to the Yankees in heartbreaking fashion.  That was the first World Series that the Giants played in since moving to SF.

SF World Series Appearances

1962 Lost to NY Yankees 3-4
1989 Lost to Oakland A's 0-4
2002 Lost to Anaheim Angels 3-4
2010 Won over Texas Rangers 4-1
2012 Vs. Detroit Tigers

The matchup against Detroit seems to be almost insurmountable.  With Verlander who's possibly the league's best pitcher, and Cabrera who is the league's first triple crown winner since 1967, the Giants are the underdogs even though they have home field advantage (thanks to Melky and other Giants' allstar game heroics).  But, these 2012 Giants clearly thrive when the odds are against them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

US advances to WC Hex qualifying round

After all the commotion and panic by fans and the media going into the last two games of this round, the US ended up winning the group outright.  Turns out a mere draw in the match at A&B would have still been enough to total the most points in this Concacaf semifinal group round.  Looking forward, the final hexagonal qualifying stage just requires a top 3 out of 6 finish for automatic WC qualification while the 4th place team gets an intercontinental playoff for a bid.  Given the 10 games that are played in the hex instead of a shorter schedule where upsets can have a huge impact, the best teams should emerge comfortably.  So, its most likely that the US just passed its most dangerous road bump on its way to Brazil.  I guess there was reason for the commotion after all.

Bocanegra opened the scoring for the US in this critical home match vs Guatemala just as he did on June 8th in our first 2014 WC qualifying match.  Coincidentally, he again scored on a corner kick, off a header from Dempsey (June 8th it was Gomez) in which he was again in the right place at the right time to slot it home.  His set piece IQ has probably contributed the most to his 14 US goals, the most for a defender all-time.

Dempsey himself, who was completely out of the flow of the last game, was in top form this time around.  He finished a perfectly placed Eddie Johnson right-sided cross and then made sure a little chip over the keeper by Bradley would tally into the scorebook for his 2nd.  From one replay angle, it seemed quite clear that Bradley's "shot" would actually have been just wide of the far post, so Dempsey did the right thing.  I like how he immediately explained to Bradley that he wasn't sure if Bradley's shot was going in and how Bradley seemed to immediately confirm that the right thing was done.

Dempsey has now scored 30 goals for the US, tied with McBride for 3rd most overall (Wynalda 34, Donovan 49).  He's got 6 goals this year, the most he's ever had internationally and he's done it with only 8 games.  His previous high was 5 goals, scored last year in 14 games.

While we really did expect Dempsey to put in this kind of performance, Eddie Johnson's play as a wide midfielder was a revelation.  I had always called him "Pass-back" Eddie, but with my own eyes, I saw him running at the defenders nearly every time he had the ball.  Of course, Guatemala strangely never chose to pressure our players until they were far too close to goal, but Eddie's aggression and decisiveness stood out to me.  He took Klinsmann's unexpected offer, knew it was probably his final chance with the US team, and made sure it counted.  Clearly Klinsmann will continue to include him qualifying camps starting in March.

I liked the Danny Williams start, even though he was quite invisible on that muddy pitch in A&B.  I think Klinsmann clearly sees a strong pairing with Michael Bradley.  Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu are capable players, but neither have meshed with Bradley the way Danny seems to have done.  Also, he's not a yellow card waiting to happen as JJ is, and he doesn't seem to make the occasional gaffes that Edu is prone to.  We'll see how this develops, but this bodes well for our central midfield in the next 2 WC cycles.

Gomez redeemed himself from a poor A&B match by displaying the willingness to do the scrappy work, as exemplified by winning the corner from which Bocanegra scored.  Perhaps this is Klinsmann's frustration with Jozy - he's not putting in the same kind of effort if he doesn't have the ball at his feet facing goal.

Our central defense is still questionable, with Bocanegra and Cameron allowing a direct long ball to sneak behind them for a 5th minute Ruiz goal.  It was reminiscent of our WC '10 campaign.  One of Klinsmann's tasks in the next year and a half is to find answers there.  In fact, it may be the biggest task as we approach Brazil.  Klinsmann found an answer to our LB problem in Fabian and even another usable CB in Cameron, but whether Bocanegra continues to be a starter for us over the next two years will be of major interest.  However in a game like this at home when we have the bulk of possession, the pressure is off the defense.

The question is really how we perform on the road.  Not just our defensive back four, but our entire squad.  At home this round, we were 3-0: beating A&B 3-1, Jamaica 1-0 and now Guatemala 3-1.  But on the road, we were a mere 1-1-1.  We tied Guatemala 1-1, lost to Jamaica 2-1 and needed EJ's 90th minute goal to beat A&B 2-1.  Those kind of road performances in the hex round will add a lot of stress on our home performances.

Even Klinsmann will have to review his tactics, especially on the road.  Here were his 6 lineups for this round (Howard started all 6) as well as results and goalscorers:

1) A&B at Home June 8th (3-1 win, Boca, Dempsey, Gomez)
(subs: Gooch, Jozy, Boyd)

2) At Guatemala June 12th (1-1 draw, Dempsey)
(subs: Cameron, Jozy, Beckerman (93rd min))

3) At Jamaica September 7th (1-2 loss, Dempsey)
(subs: Danny W, Shea, Boyd)

4) Jamaica at Home September 11th (1-0 win, Gomez)
(subs: Shea, Edu, Jozy)

5) At A&B October 12th (2-1 win, EJx2)
(subs: J Jones, Gordon, Kljestan)

6) Guatemala at Home October 16th (3-1 win, Boca, Dempsey x2)
(subs: Kljestan, Edu, Corona (90th min captie))

Random Observations:

- In the first 3 games, Klinsmann deployed 3 of these defensive-minded midfielders (Bradley, Jones, Edu, Williams and Beckerman) at a time.  We finished 1-1-1 (granted two of those games were on the road).  In the last 3 games, Klinsmann only used 2 of them - Williams and another - and we won all 3 (sure, 2 were at home and the other was at A&B).

- I'm also thankful that Beckerman, who seemed to be a favorite of Klinsmann early on, only started once.

- In our only loss, we used 2 strikers, 1 attacking midfielder and 3 def midfielders.  No wonder we lost the battle of the midfield.  Non-coincidentally, we also lacked the services of one injured Michael Bradley.

- Graham Zusi has had to start in Donovan's place the last 3 games and has done so capably.

- After such a promising first year under Klinsmann, Shea didn't start a single WC qualifier.  The lack of any left-sided attacking midfielder is precisely why EJ was surprisingly used there.

- In the last 4 games, Klinsmann went with 2 forwards - usually Gomez and Dempsey.  They are also the only two players, along with  who started in all 6 games.

- Dempsey scored 5 goals in these 6 games while Gomez, EJ and Boca each scored twice.

- 2 forwards meant that Bradley, playing in front of Williams, had to cover a huge amount of space, control the midfield and link up the attack.  I think this only works with Bradley.  If he's injured, Dempsey will have to drop back into the hole and Klinsmann will deploy a 2nd def midfielder underneath next to Williams.

Best current starting lineup and formation looking forward to the Hex:


possible subs: Guzan, Goodson, Parkhurst, Castillo, Jones, Edu, Shea, Gatt, Zusi, Kljestan, Torres, Jozy, Boyd